Bad PR: The Adulterated Truth


Getting a PR-fluff-piece into the news is easy, as I’ve shown before – take a survey, manufacture a surprising result (through data-mining, biased sampling or leading questions), and push it out with a shocking headline and a sexy angle. Easy. Here’s the first three paragraphs from an example in the Daily Express, print edition, the other week:

“One in five women would forgive their man for a one-night stand as long as it meant nothing to them.

The figures emerged in a report which also revealed that eight out of 10 Britons couldn’t care less if their partner became involved with someone else, as long as they didn’t have sex.

Despite nine out of 10 women claiming they would dump a man who had regular sex with someone else, millions would forgive indiscretions over the phone or by text, although half of girls still say they would show their partner the door if he kissed another woman.” – Source: Daily Express, 29/09/2010

Prime example, then – sexy angle, backed up with a nice, traditional ‘men cheat, ladies – deal with it’ undertone more in keeping with an episode of the Sopranos than with what most of us would experience in our lives, I’d imagine. On top of that, we have a flurry of statistics, including the up-scaled extrapolation of what ‘millions’ believe, based on the sample data. You’ve five seconds to guess what company appears in the next paragraph, having commissioned the survey. It’s a classic.

Time’s up. So:

“The poll of 3,000 people was conducted by extra marital dating service lovinglinks.co.uk”

Yep, we’ve a dating site who specialise in hooking up bits-on-the-side telling their customer base ‘it’s OK, there’s a good chance your Mrs would let you off anyway’. This goes some way towards explaining why this isn’t featured on the web version of the newspaper (do the Express want to come up in a Google search for an extra-marital dating site in an article which is anything but condemnation?), and also goes some way towards hinting as to why, of the 3,000 PEOPLE polled, we’ve only the results of the women’s views published. I wonder who lovinglinks.co.uk see as their market demographic…

Still, it would be terrible PR for lovinglinks, having engineered and planted this story, to appear to delight in the findings, hence the standard concerned-and-responsible quote from a spokesman (nameless, you’ll note):

Yesterday a spokseman said: “We expected the results to show that sex is just sex and that sharing intimate feelings with  someone other than a partner would be much more hurtful

“Instead, the thought of a partner getting intimate in the physical way is more disturbing.”

This quote is interesting for two reasons – firstly, the contrite and sympathetic tone serves to go some way towards hiding the intent of this piece, which is clearly to get men to google and join lovinglinks.co.uk. Secondly, the statement itself is intriguingly worded – their initial expectations outline not only what they ‘expected’ to get from the survey results, but also what they want the take-home message to be: sex is just sex. OK, so they follow that catchy, take-home slogan with a contrary finding, but the message is still there.

What’s more, the original press release from lovinglinks.co.uk backs that position up even further:

“While Brits don’t like to think of a partner cheating, they are becoming more open minded about the need for excitement outside the confines of a relationship.

“Most also seem to understand that it is natural to have naughty thoughts about people other than their partner.” – Source: lovinglinks.co.uk

The strategy, here, is of the lead-a-horse-to-water approach…

What’s particularly interesting with these kinds of stories is the penetration the can achieve (no, that’s not a pun). Take for example, this review of the play ‘The Country’ by arts review site theartsdesk.com:

“Adultery has had a good press recently. Websites such as meet-to-cheat.com, illicitencounters.com and lovinglinks.co.uk have been in the news, and statistics suggest that more of us are being unfaithful than ever before. But although adultery is a staple of farce and mainstream drama, there are few plays that deal with the subject with quite the unsettling ambiguity and disturbing depth that characterise Martin Crimp’s modernistic play”

Hey presto, PR passed off not only as news (such as here and here), but also as a pop-culture truism. And with another little boost to the profile of the dating site to boot.

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  1. #1 by Rob McD on October 8, 2010 - 10:18

    Whenever I see statistics like that I like to invert them to see how they sound. “If you screw around you have an 80% chance of being dumped when found out” doesn’t make such an appealing headline…

  2. #2 by Rob McD on October 8, 2010 - 10:22

    That was just a comment on the headline, btw. Not the meat of the article which I think you got exactly right.

  3. #3 by Red Celt on October 8, 2010 - 14:22

    ‘men cheat, ladies – deal with it’

    Is Merseyside in one of those “Land That Time Forgot” B-Movie timewarps, whereby the counterpart for “men” is still “ladies” rather than, oh, I dunno… “women”?

  4. #4 by Marsh on October 8, 2010 - 14:50

    @Red Celt: It was a bit of writer’s licence – paraphrasing the tone to highlight the underlying sexism of the Express’ “Men cheat and their wives forgive them” angle. If you re-read it, you might see what I mean.

  5. #5 by burpy on October 8, 2010 - 22:06

    Is “ladies” sexist now? I guess I didn´t get that memo. I´m glad that the word police are on hand to help.

  6. #6 by Red Celt on October 9, 2010 - 18:17

    @burpy: Situationally, it is. Either call all men gentlemen and all women ladies… or call them men and women. Thing is, I’ve met lots of men who weren’t gentlemen and lots of women who weren’t ladies. Using it carte-blanche is an anachronism.

    Assigning one set of patronage to one gender whilst not doing the same for the other is inherently sexist.

  7. #7 by burpy on October 13, 2010 - 11:21

    @Red Celt, I understand where you´re coming from. Its just that to me, attempting to strike out words from the language seems a little… Orwellian.

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